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Specter: White House needs to explain leak

Former diplomat says administration engaging in disinformation
Sen. Specter: "It is necessary ... to tell the American people exactly what happened."



Dick Cheney
George W. Bush
Lewis Libby

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A top Senate Republican called on President Bush on Sunday to tell Americans why the White House leaked intelligence to bolster the case for the Iraq war in 2003.

The remarks by Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the judiciary committee, came as former U.S. ambassador Joe Wilson, whose complaints about the war sparked the dispute, said it is time for the administration "to come clean."

A new wave of controversy over leaking began last week when prosecutors released court documents in which a former aide to Dick Cheney testified that the vice president told him in 2003 that President Bush approved the release of information in a classified intelligence report.

On Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president declassified information for release, which he has the authority to do.

Democratic critics of the administration have said the president approved leaking sensitive intelligence for political reasons, despite repeated public pronouncements that he would punish anyone in the administration found to have leaked classified information.

In the court papers, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wrote "multiple" White House officials tried to "discredit, punish, or seek revenge against" a critic of the Iraq war -- a reference to Wilson, who had publicly questioned Bush's assertion in a State of the Union address that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program.

The administration later acknowledged that U.S. intelligence did not back up the assertion, and that it should not have been included in the president's speech.

Some U.S. intelligence at the time bolstered Wilson's position that the uranium claim was not supported by evidence. But the information that the Bush administration released, selected from the classified National Intelligence Estimate, supported the administration's stance.

"I think that it is necessary for the president and the vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened," Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, told "Fox News Sunday."

"I'm not about to condemn or criticize anybody, but I do say that there's been enough of a showing here with what's been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people."

He added, "The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made, but that it was not the right way to go about it, because we ought not to have leaks in government. We ought not to have them."

Wilson, on ABC's "This Week," said the administration's actions had furthered a "disinformation campaign."

"Indeed, it seems to me it is long past time for the White House to come clean on all of this," he said.

Wilson: White House twisted intelligence

The documents released by prosecutors last week contained an assertion by Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, that Bush approved -- through the vice president -- the release of some information in a classified National Intelligence Estimate in 2003.

"Several months before the State of the Union address, the White House and the Senate were advised, don't use this information [on Niger]; it is baseless," said Wilson.

"If you then use the information, you are twisting intelligence to support political decisions that have already been made," Wilson said. "And in July, when you selectively leak pieces of the national intelligence estimate, and when you attribute pieces in the body to key judgments, you are furthering that disinformation campaign. That's what Mr. Libby did."

The White House has not challenged the facts in the court documents, but McClellan said the administration acted in the best interest of Americans.

"Because of the public debate that was going on and some of the wild accusations that were flying around at the time, we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified be declassified, and that's exactly what we did," McClellan told reporters Friday.

The court documents show that Bush approved the release on July 8, 2003 -- 10 days before McClellan told reporters "this information was just, as of today, officially declassified."

"There has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said so that it can be evaluated," said Specter.

The CIA leak investigation centers around the question of who leaked the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, then a covert CIA operative. The former ambassador calls the move retribution against him.

Libby is charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents investigating the exposure. His trial likely will begin in January.

The court documents released this week do not suggest Bush approved the leaking of the agent's identity.

Wilson, in the interview Sunday, did not accuse Bush of having done so. He called on Bush and Cheney to "release the transcripts of their testimony to the prosecutor."

He added, "I'm not going to sit here and accuse the president of the United States of -- of any committed -- betraying the national security of the country.

"But at the end of the day, if you're going to say, get the information out, that basically means declassify the National Intelligence Estimate. Not selective pieces of this that support decisions that you've made, even though they are not grounded in fact, and that's what Mr. Libby did."

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